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London, and thus "sentenced him"1 to pass some three years in Ireland, during a time marked by fierce and savage religious persecution of his Catholic fellow-countrymen. McKnight, in his able political History of Burke, says " Burke particularly takes the year 1761-the year in which Lord Halifax became Viceroy-as that in which a truly savage period began with regard to the Catholics, and was continued by succeeding Lord Lieutenants until 1767." During these years, in which the persecuting spirit of the age vented itself relentlessly against the helpless majority of this Irish Catholic nation, it was Burke's fate to stand face to face in Dublin Castle with this detestable and atrocious tyranny. Hence, his generous nature was keenly aroused to the iniquities of that time. Burke, witnessing the action of those infamous penal laws which destroyed the peace and prosperity of the country,2 began himself to collect materials for an elaborate work on the penal laws. Some years after his death a part of the work was published. It is what he himself called it :-" An Essay, Systematic and Logical, on the Nature, Causes, and Consequences of the Penal Laws," treated in the highest spirit of the political philosopher. No equal portion of Burke's writings is superior to this fragment either in manner or matter; it is remarkably suggestive in its spirit, and will well repay the most diligent study." 3
After three years servitude to his exacting master, Burke threw up his appointment, and returned to London in 1764. Those three years in Ireland had a great influence on Burke's Parliamentary action in favour of Catholics. In 1766 he was sent into the House of Commons as member for Wendover; "and from that date," says Craik,* "almost to the hour of his death, besides his exertions as a front figure in the debates, and other business of Parliament, from which he did not retire till 1794, he continued to dazzle the world by a succession of political writings, such as certainly had never before been equalled for brilliancy and power."
1766.-Burke as an M.P.-The position which Burke held as a public man is to be estimated from his acts, writings, and speeches on the great questions of his day. These great questions related to the oppressed and enslaved Catholics; the American War of Independence; the first great French Revolution; and the tyranny that ground the vast millions of
1 As Swift termed his obligation to reside here. McKnight. vol. i., pp. 151, 152.
3 Burke threw up the position of Private Secretary to Hamilton with indignation, and returned permanently to London in 1764.-See "Illust. Life," pp. 44, 45. 4 Hist. of English Literature.
India into serfs and slaves, and robbed them of their savings to enrich English adventurers.1
The Penal Laws-First in order presents itself the action of the Penal Laws, and Burke's relations thereto.
What were these Penal Laws? Lest I should seem to overdraw them and their effects, I give the summary of them presented in the pages of an English Protestant writer. McKnight writes, in his Political Life of Burke:-" They form a code which every tyrant might study, and find his knowledge of the surest means of producing human wretchedness extended. He would see at once a terrible engine made perfect with all the science of political mechanism, for those who, with devilish malignity, would reverse the end of government, and instead of improving the well-being of the community, deliberately set about the destruction of a race. In comparison with this unrelenting penal code, embracing generation after generation in the pall of its deadly animosity, even the tremendous policy of Cromwell, as it was exhibited amid the ruin. and bloodshed of Drogheda, was merciful. In a few years Cromwell's object would have been attained, and the Roman Catholics would have disappeared from the face of the land.
"But the evil effects of the penal code extended far beyond one generation or one century, slowly corrupting, impoverishing, degrading, tormenting, and at last destroying, through the unpitied suffering of three hundred years, all whose misfortune it was to be born Roman Catholics in Ireland. The mere statement of these laws, as they appeared to Burke in 1761 makes the flesh creep and the blood tingle in the veins. They struck at all property by abolishing, in the case of the Catholic proprietor, the right of primogeniture and any power of testamentary disposal; they struck at all paternal authority by allowing the eldest son, the moment he conformed to the established religion, to acquire the reversion and inheritance to the estate, and to reduce his father's right to a mere interest for life; they struck at all the domestic and social affections by placing the Catholic husband in the power of the Protestant wife, who at her pleasure could deprive him of the management and education of his children; they struck at all the rights of citizenship, by not only preventing the Catholic from filling offices in the State, but by excluding him from the army, from
1 When the Marquis of Rockingham became Prime Minister, he appointed Burke as his Private Secretary, July 17, 1765. The Lord Chancellor (the Duke of Newcastle) got alarmed, told Rockingham that Burke was a Papist-a Jesuit in disguise, &c. Rockingham, on inquiry, found that these statements were all false. --See "Prior," pp. 92, 93.
the law, from the bench of magistrates, from the freedom of a corporation, and from being a mere lawyer's clerk; they struck at all the security of social life, by giving a premium to relations and servants to betray their benefactors and masters. The priest was liable to be hanged, drawn, and quartered; common informers were encouraged by prodigious rewards; the State nurtured a spy at every Roman Catholic hearth; all the laws of nature and Providence were reversed. The effect had been produced; the country was thoroughly divided against itself; in one land there were two distinct races. The worst feature of all, obvious to the passing stranger, was that fatal scowl of hereditary hatred with which the oppressors and the oppressed regarded each other."
Professor Morley writes as follows1:
"Protestants love to dwell upon the horrors of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes-of the proscriptions of Philip the Second of the Inquisition. Let them turn candidly to the history of Ireland from 1691 down to 1798, and they will perceive that the diabolical proscription of the penal laws, and the phrenzied atrocities with which the Protestants suppressed the Catholic rising at the close of the century, are absolutely unsurpassed in history. The penal code has often been transcribed. In a country where the toleration of Protestantism is constantly over-vaunted, it can scarcely be transcribed too often. The creed of the greater part of Christendom was viewed as if it had been the bloody superstition of a tribe of cannibals. To hold the belief which a Bossuet and a Fenelon still lived to adorn, while these laws were being conceived, was enough to debar a man from the ordinary privileges of ownership, from sending his children to be educated in his own faith, from the guardianship of his own child if the mother were a Protestant, from keeping a school, from following the professions of law and physic, and, in certain circumstances, from the benefit of trial by jury."
Such was the state of this unfortunate country when Burke came from London to reside at Dublin, as private secretary of Hamilton, in 1761. Now let us consider what Burke's action was with regard to these laws.
He set himself at once, as already stated, to collect materials for an exhaustive treatise on the action of this infamous code, in order to hold it up to the scorn and contempt of the civilized world. He knew that mere reasoning would not soften the hearts of the haughty persecutors of our creed; but
1 Morley's "Burke," p. 191.
he knew also that they were a proud race, who would shrink from infamy when brought home to their doors, as was sure to be the case by a public exposition of their cruel legislation and its effects. Armed with the information thus acquired, he came before the House of Commons, and by his exertions mainly the first relaxations of the rigours of the penal code were carried in 1778.
But although he had so far succeeded in the House of Commons, there were fanatics abroad who were not to be enlightened or civilized. The London rabble, fit successors to those slanderers who fixed the burning of London, in the great fire of 1666, upon the inoffensive Catholics, and to perpetuate that infamous brand upon their memories, erected the column, known as "the Monument at London Bridge," which, in the words of Pope—
"Like a tall bully, rears its head and lies,"
the London rabble met at the call of Lord George Gordon in 1780. Thousands of them, infuriated at any toleration of their Catholic neighbours, burned down their houses, wrecked their chapels, and massacred many of the defenceless Catholics. If any of my audience will turn to Dickens's "Barnaby Rudge," he will find there one of the finest passages in the English language, wherein Dickens describes the maddening riots of the lawless street mobs, encouraged by the weakness of the government, and venting themselves with a fury of uncontrollable malice upon the helpless Catholics in the midst of them.
Burke was denounced for being the cause of the motion carried two years before in the House of Commons, whereby the smallest instalment of justice was extended to the proscribed. His dwelling-house was threatened to be wrecked, "he was reviled as a Jesuit in disguise, nick-named Neddy St. Omers, and caricatured as a monk stirring the fires of Smithfield, in addition to much more vituperation." He was warned by his friends that his life was in danger from the enraged mob, and advised to hide or to leave London. However, he boldly faced the danger. He went amongst the excited rabble, proclaimed who he was, and, by his intrepid bearing, shamed the cruel cowards out of their malignity against himself.2
1 Prior's "Life of Burke," p. 233.
* Burke describes the horrors of the Gordon riots in his speech, seeking in vain re-election for Bristol, 6th September, 1780.-(Duffy)-Extracts from Burke's Speeches, p. 159.
Other troubles awaited him. He had sat as Member of Parliament for Bristol since 1774-six years. By his course of action towards his country and our creed, he had offended his constituents. The people of Bristol coveted the honour of being represented by Burke from the great fame he attained in the House of Commons. By his first two speeches in Parliament, when M.P. for Wendover, he had "filled the town. with wonder," as Johnson exultingly wrote.1 Hence, Wendover (nor Malton, for which he was elected) were no longer worthy of so distingished a representative. He was returned for Bristol (free of all expense), and its citizens rejoiced in his increasing fame. As time went on, bills were introduced to cripple and destroy the woollen trade in Ireland. Burke opposed these measures, originating from the selfish jealousy of the merchants of Bristol and other manufacturing districts in England. He denounced them as oppressive to Irishmen, and unjust on the part of those who brought them forward. He succeeded in defeating them. Bristol was angry, and determined to be avenged.-He was at once called upon to answer for his two grave offences-Ist, That he had not supported the demands of Bristol to crush the Irish woollen trade; and 2nd, That he had advocated the redress of the grievances weighing upon the Catholics of the United Kingdom. In his defence he published two letters to the sheriffs, &c., of Bristol. In reference to the Irish woollen trade he writes:-" Do they (the people of Bristol) forget that the whole woollen manufacture of Ireland, the most extensive and profitable of any, and the natural staple of that country, has been in a manner so destroyed by restrictive laws of ours, and (at our persuasion and on our promises) by restrictive laws of their own, that in a few years, it is probable, they will not be able to wear a coat of their own fabric? Is this equality? Do gentlemen forget that the understood faith upon which they, the Irish, were persuaded to such an unnatural act has not been kept, but a linen manufacture has been set up and highly encouraged against them? Is this equality? Yet if the least step is taken towards doing them common justice in the slightest articles for the most limited markets, a cry is raised as if we were going to be ruined by partiality to Ireland." In these words of truth, seasoned by sarcasm, he disposed of the first charge levelled at him by his constituents. But might it not be said that he had deceived his constituents? Was he not bound, as
1 Johnson sat in a neighbouring coffee-house, awaiting in great anxiety the return of some of his friends from the House of Commons to report to him how Burke got on in his first speech. The newspapers were not then allowed to report the Members' utterances.